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Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement tried to 'absolutely ignore’ social care but seemed to deal the sector a body blow anyway with a rise in the minimum wage expected to bring job losses.
Instead of announcing more funding for social care, rising staff costs was the bitter pill prescribed by Chancellor Hammond’s Autumn Statement on 23 November.
From 1 April 2017, the living wage will rise by four per cent from £7.20 to £7.50 per hour for the over 25s. The move, many believe, will destabilise the social care sector which could now be seen as ‘Not At all Managing' (NAM) as opposed to ‘Just About Managing’ (JAM).
The JAM, the snappy jargon of the moment, does not refer to the English Mod band of the late 1970s, but to Theresa May’s maiden speech as PM appealing to people who were 'just managing’.
But it is care providers up and down the country who will now swallow a minimum wage rise on top the higher staff costs paid when the National Living Wage was introduced on 1 April this year.
Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, which represents care home providers, said: “The increases to the living wage, which do not appear to be funded by increases in social care funding, could lead to significant numbers of job losses.
“The Chancellor has absolutely ignored social care yet again, and he must be prepared for the impact this will have on families, local economies, and the NHS.”
Instead of seizing the opportunity to bring social care back from the brink of the ‘tipping point’ it faces, as described by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) recently, care providers say the Chancellor failed to deliver a cure for the sector’s chronic underfunding.
What care providers wanted
Minutes before the Autumn Statement, Martin Green told carehome.co.uk the Chancellor should increase the two per cent social care precept to four per cent or five per cent. He also called for "an immediate £1bn put in to stabilise the care sector, so that we would have time to think through a long-term solution to care funding.”
Dr Alison Rose-Quirie, chief executive of Swanton Care and Community said: “This Government either doesn’t understand the seriousness of this situation or simply doesn’t care about people who lead the most challenging lives.
“I now fear for the stability of the entire social and health care systems in this country, especially as we approach winter. Do we really have to wait for a total system failure before we act, surely our most vulnerable people deserve so much better than that?”
May and Corbyn clash over social care and Margaret
In his statement, the Chancellor did say the Government would “meet our pledge to the country’s pensioners through the ‘triple lock’.” The state pension ‘triple lock’ ensures the amount of pension people receive rises each year by the highest of inflation, earnings growth or 2.5 per cent.
But the real drama in Parliament began half an hour before Chancellor Hammond got to his feet, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn laying into Theresa May during PMQs about the Conservative’s social care record. He said 'understaffed' care homes had contributed to the recent Panorama revelations of poor care in two care homes.
Prime Minister Theresa May was told by Jeremy Corbyn: “Part of the reason for the strain on our NHS is that more than one million people are not receiving the social care that they need.
“As a result of this there has been an increase in hospital admissions for older patients."
Referring to a member of the public, Mr Corbyn said: “Margaret wrote to me this week. she described how her 89-year-old mother suffered two falls, leading to hospital admissions, due to the lack of nursing care.
“What action will the PM take to stop the neglect of older people which ends up forcing them to take A&E admissions when they should be cared for at home or in a care home?”
Lady's not for turning
Theresa May proved she was a lady not for turning by sticking to her script on social care of the last four months with the words… “Of course social care is an area of concern. That’s why the Government has introduced the Better Care Fund, that’s why the Government has introduced the social care precept for local authorities.
“And we’re encouraging the working together of the health service and the local authorities to deal with precisely the issues he’s raised on social care and bed blocking.”
The PM also said the Government is spending half a trillion on the NHS.
Mr Corbyn went on: “The precept is a drop in the ocean compare to what’s necessary for social care”.
Minutes before the Chanceller announced corporation tax will fall to 17 per cent as planned, Mr Corbyn told the PM: “This Government’s choice was to cut social care by £4.6bn in the last parliament at the same time as they found the space, shall we say, to cut billions in corporate taxation bills.
“In the last four years, the number of patients unable to be transferred from hospital due to the lack of adequate social care has increased by one third. Will the PM, ensure that her Government guarantees all of our elderly people the dignity that they deserve?"
May’s minister to talk to CQC about poor care in care homes
Mr Corbyn spoke of the Panorama investigation, which revealed older people mistreated in two nursing homes run by Morleigh Group. He quoted CQC’s damning view of the Morleigh Group.
When asked by Mr Corbyn what action would be taken to protect residents of the these care homes, Theresa May said: “Everybody is appalled when we see examples of poor and terrible treatment that is given to elderly people in care homes. What we do about it is ensure we have the CQC, which is able to step in and take action.
”The Minister for Community Health and Care is going to be writing to the CQC shortly to look at how we can see to improve what they do.”
Corbyn highlights staffing issue in care homes
The Labour leader said: “The problem seems to be that home was understaffed." He said blame shouldn’t go to ‘hard-pressed’ care workers, "we should be ensuring there are enough of them properly paid in all of those homes.”
On the Government’s ‘divisive and impractical’ policy that patients show passports for non-emergency health care to stamp out health tourism, Mr Corbyn mocked the PM pointing out that 9.5 million people don’t have passports. He said “has the Government considered the impact on elderly people?”
Mr Corbyn called for ‘properly resourced’, ‘properly funded’ social care and asked: “Will the Government give health and social care the money it needs to care for the people who need it?"
The sound of shouting by MPs during the heated PMQs exchange on social care grew louder, prompting the Speaker of the House to tell MPs to keep it down. As the jeers from MPs continued, Theresa May told the packed house: “We can only afford to pay for the NHS and social care if we have a strong economy.”
Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: "The Government's failure to provide any respite for our beleaguered social care system in the Autumn Statement means "more older people will get no help or not enough help; more care companies will exit the market or fold; more people will have to fund their own care and face big, rising bills.
"More care staff will quit for less stressful jobs elsewhere; and all the good people working in social care battling to sustain good standards of care will face an even tougher job than they do today.”